Tuesday, December 31, 2019

Quote of the day, the week, the century

...comes from former Vice-President and 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden, who told a crowd in Derry, New Hampshire, yesterday:

“Anybody who can go down 3,000 feet in a mine can sure as hell learn to program as well...Anybody who can throw coal into a furnace can learn how to program, for God’s sake!”

With all due respect, sir, I disagree. The aptitudes are completely different.

It's rather like saying, "Anybody who can drive a car can learn to be a nuclear physicist."

"Anybody who can bake a chocolate cake can learn how to design a municipal waste treatment facility."

"Anybody who can put one foot in front of the other can conduct a great symphony orchestra."

In each instance, including Vice-President Biden's, the first skill does not preclude the second, granted, but neither is it a guarantee of achieving it.

Plus, anybody includes a lot ot people.

You heard it here first.

Color me skeptical.

Monday, December 30, 2019

Ever the pedant, I continue

Did you know that natives of Miami, Florida, say "Miam-uh" and natives of Cincinnati, Ohio, say "Cincinnat-uh" and natives of Missouri say "Missour-uh"?

Well, they do.

Atlanta, Georgia, has a street named Ponce de Leon but it is not pronounced “PONT-suh day Lay-OWN” or even the way speakers of Castilian Spanish might say it, “PON-thuh day Lay-OWN”. No, friends, the street in Atlanta is pronounced “PONTS duh LEE-on”.

People all over the world say “Hew-ston” when they’re talking about the largest city in Texas, but Houston Street in Atlanta and Houston County in Georgia are both pronounced “House-ton”.

I kid you not.

My mother referred to Houston, Texas, as “You-ston” but she was from Philadelphia. She and Donald Trump both call (or, in her case, called) very big things “yuge”. He is from New York but he did receive a B.S. in Economics from the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania. Maybe going there affected his speech.

For those of you who travel to Texas, I can assure you that you will be laughed at or at least be looked askance at if you put a “Wax” in Waxahachie. It’s “Walks”.

Natchitoches, Louisiana, where Steel Magnolias was filmed, has only three syllables and they are pronounced ”NACK-uh-tush”. Its sister city, Nacogdoches, Texas, is pronounced “Nack-uh-DOACH-es” however.

People who live in Boca Raton in Palm Beach County, Florida, say “Boca Ruh-TONE” but many other people say “Boca Ruh-TAHN”.

Residents of New Orleans do not say “Nawlins” despite what you may have been told. They say "Noo-AW-lins". No one should ever say "new-or-LEENS". Residents of Baton Rouge say “Batten Rouge”. Please remember when you mention the state where those cities are located that it was named for Louis, not Louise.

In Kentucky, the town of Versailles is pronounced “Ver-SAYLES”, not at all like the one in France. Don’t even attempt Louisville.

When you go to Egypt say “Kye-ro” but in both Cairo, Illinois, and Cairo, Georgia, remember to say “Care-oh” instead.

In Peru, the city of Lima may be “Lee-muh” but the city in Ohio is “Lye-muh”.

I could go on and on. La Jolla, California, is pronounced "La HOY-a" just the way Spaniards would say it. Des Moines, Iowa, is pronounced "Duh Moyn" just the way the French would NOT say it. In Illinois, Des Plaines is pronounced "Dess Playns".

But I grow weary, so I'm pretty sure you do also.

I will make a real attempt to be less pedantic in the New Year.

Tuesday, December 17, 2019

Speaking of Edgar Allan Poe and simple English, and Beethoven, and an earworm

Here's a poem that Edgar Allan Poe wrote:

Annabel Lee
By Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)


It was many and many a year ago
In a kingdom by the sea,
That a maiden there lived whom you may know
By the name of Annabel Lee;
And this maiden she lived with no other thought
Than to love and be loved by me.

I was a child and she was a child,
In this kingdom by the sea,
But we loved with a love that was more than love—
I and my Annabel Lee—
With a love that the wingèd seraphs of Heaven
Coveted her and me.

And this was the reason that, long ago,
In this kingdom by the sea,
A wind blew out of a cloud, chilling
My beautiful Annabel Lee;
So that her highborn kinsmen came
And bore her away from me,
To shut her up in a sepulchre
In this kingdom by the sea.

The angels, not half so happy in Heaven,
Went envying her and me—
Yes!—that was the reason (as all men know,
In this kingdom by the sea)
That the wind came out of the cloud by night,
Chilling and killing my Annabel Lee.

But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;

For the moon never beams, without bringing me dreams
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And the stars never rise, but I feel the bright eyes
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.

Talk about your simple English, even a child can understand every word of this poem with the possible exception of 'coveted' and 'sepulchre' and 'dissever'.

We had to memorize it back in Mr. D.P. Morris's class in Mansfield, Texas, over 60 years ago and then, one by one, stand up in front of the whole class and recite it. I personally feel it was a horrible thing to make 17-year-old boys and girls do. We could have been scarred for life. [Editor's note. I'm not talking about having to recite it. I'm talking about having to listen to it being recited by others 30 times. --RWP]

One thing I know. They don't make teachers of English or, for that matter, writers of poems like they used to.

Either yesterday or today is Beethoven's birthday. No one seems to know for sure. He was definitely baptized in a church (Baptists would say "sprinkled") on December 17, 1770, but he may have been born one day earlier. Whichever is correct, and I guess we'll never know, next year will be his -- wait for it -- semiquincentennial.

I had an earworm in the night, one of those times when lyrics of a song play over and over and over in your mind for hours. Last night and into the dawn it was "He's got jelly beans for Tommy, colored eggs for sister Sue; there's an orchid for your mommy, and an Easter bonnet too".

I'm a little slow getting into a Christmas mood this year. I wonder why.

Friday, December 13, 2019

A little light reading to stay out of trouble on Friday the 13th

KISS isn't just a boomer-generation rock group.

(Photo copyright by KissBoy25, 9 March 2013, used in accordance with CC-BY-SA-4.0)

It’s also an acronym: Keep It Simple, Stupid1.

Let's examine a song of the season:

Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer
Had a very shiny nose
And if you ever saw it
You would even say it glows.
All of the other reindeer
Used to laugh and call him names.
They never let poor Rudolph
Join in any reindeer games.
Then one foggy Christmas Eve
Santa came to say,
"Rudolph, with your nose so bright,
Won't you guide my sleigh tonight?"
Then how the reindeer loved him
As they shouted out with glee,
"Rudolph, the red-nosed reindeer,
You'll go down in history."

For purposes of this analysis, let's ignore the word 'Rudolph' because it is a proper noun (a name), and let's treat the hyphenated 'red-nosed' as two separate words.

The song has 87 words in all. When you ignore 'Rudolph', which occurs four times. 83 words are left. Let’s also omit duplicated words. 'The' appears 4 times in all. Take away 3 of them and we’re left with 80 words. Other words that appear more than once are red (2), nosed (2), nose (2), reindeer (5), and (2), you (3), it (2), say (2), him (2), and they (2). When all of the duplicates are removed, we’re left with 68 unique words, and of those 68, 57 have one syllable and 11 have two syllables.

But Rhymes, you say, that song is for children. Of course it is going to be simple.

Here’s the point: English is simple and direct, so use it as much as you can instead of big words borrowed from Latin like obfuscation and peripherally and obsequious and transcendentally and imperturbable.

Let’s look at Shakespeare. Here's a portion of Hamlet’s soliloquy:

To be, or not to be--that is the question:
Whether 'tis nobler in the mind to suffer
The slings and arrows of outrageous fortune
Or to take arms against a sea of troubles
And by opposing end them. To die, to sleep--
No more--and by a sleep to say we end
The heartache, and the thousand natural shocks
That flesh is heir to. 'Tis a consummation
Devoutly to be wished. To die, to sleep--
To sleep--perchance to dream: ay, there's the rub,
For in that sleep of death what dreams may come
When we have shuffled off this mortal coil,
Must give us pause.

Twelve and a half lines of deep thought and only four words with more than two syllables -- outrageous, opposing, consummation, and devoutly.

That's English.

I could give you many examples of simple but profound English. The 23rd Psalm in the King James Version of the Bible. The Lord's Prayer in the New Testament.

Here is the complete text of the address Abraham Lincoln gave at the dedication of the national cemetery at Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on November 19, 1863:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate — we can not consecrate — we can not hallow — this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us — that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.


Lincoln was not the main speaker for the dedication. Edward Everett, a well-known orator, was the chief speaker and spoke for two hours. Lincoln’s speech consisted of 272 words, lasted 2 minutes, and became known as one of the greatest speeches ever made by an American president. No one remembers what Edward Everett said.

Would we remember what Franklin D. Roosevelt said if instead of saying "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself" he had said, "The sole contributing factor to our trepidation is, per se, trepidation"?

Would we remember what John F. Kennedy said if instead of saying "Ask not what your country can do for you; ask what you can do for your country" he had said, "Be not inquisitive regarding benefits an individual citizen might derive from one's natal government authority; be inquisitive regarding what an individual citizen might contribute to his or her natal government authority"?

Would we remember what Richard Nixon said if instead of saying "I am not a crook" he had said, "The undersigned does not concede to having the slightest modicum of felonious tendencies in his personality profile"?

Would we remember an old proverb if instead of saying "Too many cooks spoil the broth" we said "A plethora of individuals possessing culinary skills can produce a deleterious effect on the bouillabaisse"?

I think not.

There's always an exception that proves the rule, though. Would we remember Edgar Allan Poe if instead of saying "the tintinnabulation of the bells" he had said "chiming" or his cask contained Ripple instead of Amontillado?

Therefore, as much as possible, eschew obfuscation.

In other words, keep it simple, stupid1.

1No offense is intended to any reader personally. It's just a word that completes the acronym.

I wonder if Gene Simmons's mother ever told him to keep it simple.

(Photo copyright by KissBoy25, 9 March 2013, used in accordance with CC-BY-SA-4.0)

She should have.

Tuesday, December 10, 2019

Mummy's favourite

The other day, when I mentioned Prince Andrew in this post, his name was followed (inexplicaby, to Americans) by a veritable alphabet soup of letters, specifically:

KG, GCVO, CD, ADC(P)

These may be obvious to any stiff-upper-lipped Brit, but I shall now reveal to the rest of the world just what the heck all that stuff means.

They are his medals.

One by one, they are:
  • KG - Knight of the Garter
  • GCVO - Grand Commander of the (Royal) Victorian Order
  • CD - Best as I can figure out, the Canadian Decoration
  • ADC(P) - Aide-de-camp (personal) to the sovereign

According to the Daily Mail (a staid, demure publication not unlike our own Wall Street Journal or New York Times)...


...Prince Andrew actually has (or had, as of 2011) seven medals. The others are the South Atlantic Campaign Medal (Falklands War), the Queen’s Silver Jubilee Medal, the Queen’s Golden Jubilee Medal (given to Royal Family and trusted members of her household), and the New Zealand Commemoration Medal (1990). The Canadian Decoration mentioned in the earlier list was awarded in 2001.

You can read about them, and other fascinating stuff about the royal family, here.

Please do. There are a couple of lovely photos of the Queen when she was younger. The photos of Andrew are a bit bewildering. In one he is positively beaming, but in another he is glaring ominously at the camera. Perhaps he is thinking of his ex-wife, Sarah Ferguson, or wishing he were somewhere more pleasant, like a private island in the Caribbean.

Saturday, December 7, 2019

Before it slips my mind completely

...I wanted to share with you that Kathy, a fairly new reader hereabouts, corrected me after I said that America's first Thanksgiving occurred at Plymouth, Massachussetts, in 1621.

It didn't.

I mean, it occurred, but it wasn't America's first one.

According to this fascinating article in The Washingtonian, that honor goes to Berkeley Plantation, a settlement on the James River in Virginia, in the Year Of Our Lord 1619.

So we shouldn't be remembering the Mayflower, we should be remembering the Margaret. We shouldn't be thinking of William Bradford, we should be thinking of John Woodlief. And we shouldn’t have eaten turkey, we should have eaten oysters and ham.

Unfortunately (or, as regarding our need to eat oysters, fortunately), Berkeley Plantation was destroyed by the Powhatan Indians in 1622.

Not very neighborly, not very neighborly at all.

Mr. Rogers would have been so disappointed.

This post is part of my effort to make it through December 7th without mentioning Pearl Bailey.

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Apropos of nothing, or Odds and Ends R Us

Now that Prince Andrew Albert Christian Edward, Duke of York, KG, GCVO, CD, ADC(P) has been thrust into the public eye recently as a result of his having associated with the late, unlamented Jeffery Epstein and has also been relieved of his public duties (a.k.a fired) by his mum, Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II (full name Elizabeth Alexandra Mary Windsor-Mountbatten), the royal family is on everyone's minds, tongues, and radar screens.

NOT.

But I do have a question. I know that within the family the queen was called Lilibet as a child, but what was Princess Margaret called? Meg? Maggie? Hey, you?

Inquiring minds want to know and I am sure my many loyal U.K. readers (they constitute a plethora) will be rushing to inform me.

Again, NOT.

I once read a slim volume entitled Why Princess Margaret Will Never Be A Kappa Kappa Gamma. The reason, divulged breathlessly within, was that she smoked cigarettes in public.

They say that Jacqueline Bouvier Kennedy Onassis smoked like a chimney, but it was always in private.

It may be a beautiful day in Mr. Rogers's neighborhood, but it is a slow week in mine. Thanksgiving has come and gone. Christmas isn't here yet, in spite of what the retailers are telling you. There are three whole weeks left until Christmas.

In our family this month, one grandson celebrates his 22nd birthday, one son and daughter-in-law celebrate their 28th anniversary, the same son and daughter-in-law just returned from a 10-day trip to Israel, and another grandson is moving to Africa. None of them is called Lilibet, to my knowledge.

I read that Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, former Prince of Greece and Denmark, a sort of modern-day equivalent to Queen Victoria’s husband, Prince Albert of Saxe-Coburg-Gotha, has also stepped away from public activities. It's about time, in my opinion. The man is 98 years old, for crying out loud.

There are a few days of note in December. There's St. Nicholas Day on the 6th, and there's Pearl Harbor Day on the 7th, and there's Beethoven's birthday on the 16th.

If the world were not so PC these days (politically correct), I would trot out an old joke I used to tell annually, Did you hear about the guy who was half black and half Japanese? Every December 7th he attacks Pearl Bailey.

Well, I thought it was funny.

Today no one even knows who Pearl Bailey is or, more accurately, was.

If I asked you to name four actresses who played Dolly Levi in Hello, Dolly! on Broadway, could you do it?

I can. Carol Channing, Ginger Rogers, Betty Grable, and Pearl Bailey. In the film version, however, Dolly Levi was played by Barbra Streisand

Today's young folks don't recognize any of those names except maybe Barbra Streisand. I know. I watch Jeopardy! five nights a week and am constantly amazed at the number of questions that no contestant knows the answer to. There is either no response from any contestant —- crickets — or the lone contestant who hazards a guess is astoundingly wrong. The other night in a category called "The Kennedys" the clue was a photo of a very old, very wrinkled Ethel Kennedy receiving a medal at the White House and the contestant who buzzed in said, "Who is Caroline?"

I'm not even kidding.

The phenomenon on Jeopardy! continues. On tonight’s episode, after being shown a photo of Carol Channing the lone contestant said, “Who is Phyllis Diller?”

Sometimes I wonder how Alex Trebek keeps a straight face.

I see that Prince Charles has passed Edward VII as not only the oldest Prince of Wales but also the longest-serving Prince of Wales.

My favorite line in Hello, Dolly! is near the end when Horace van der Gelder tells Dolly Levi, "Money, you should pardon the expression, is like manure. It doesn't do any good unless you spread it around."

I also remember when Barbra Streisand played Fanny Brice in Funny Girl and Fanny's mother, played by Kay Medford, was getting nowhere trying to dissuade Fanny from her infatuation with gambler and general ne-er-do-well Nicky Arnstein (played by Omar Sharif), and Fanny said, "But Ma, I love him". Her mother said, "Fanny, love him a little less. Help him a little more."

I'm rambling.

I do a lot of that, and more and more as time goes by. Eventually I will do less and less of it, and then you will stop hearing from me altogether.

Pity.

In closing, and I know it can't come soon enough for some of you, I have one question left.

Anybody know what the Princess Royal is up to nowadays?

Monday, December 2, 2019

Thanksgiving is not just one day a year, or Maybe there is such a thing as a free lunch

Our church has around 300 people attending currently, up from around 100 just a couple of years ago. There are about 40 in our general age range (somewhere between Social Security and Death). We have a monthly social event called Prime Timers, which I think is a much better name than The Over-The-Hillers or The Not Long For This Worlders or The One Foot In The Gravers. Some months we have a lunch at the church followed by table games or a songfest; sometimes we go somewhere in the church vans. In October they went to a restaurant in Jasper and drove up into the apple country in North Georgia. In November we were honored with a Thanksgiving Feast at the church on Heritage Sunday. In December we usually make a trip to a nice restaurant for a nominal fee which couldn't possibly cover the true cost. Last year, for example, we went to Buca de Beppo (Italian) and paid $5.00 each for an absolute banquet.

This year our director, Tammi, a lovely woman in her late fifties whom we have known since she was 13, announced that we will be going to Mellow Mushroom (pizza) next week. She asked that each person going contribute $9.00 to help cover food, games, prizes, decorations, and so forth. She always does a bang-up job and we appreciate her leadership. I don't think the Prime Timers are included in the church budget; I think Tammi volunteers her time and covers much of the costs herself. I could be wrong. Either way, she is a gem.

On the way to church every Sunday morning Mrs. RWP and I usually stop at Burger King for a quick breakfast of sausage, egg, and cheese croissants and hash-rounds (potatoes). Sometimes we have French Toastix with maple syrup instead. Yesterday we also stopped at our bank's ATM and withdrew $20 to give to Tammi. She wasn't at church this week, though, because her day job -- executive chef at an assisted-living/memory care facility -- needed her to work this weekend. Since the place she works is just a few blocks from the church, we drove over there before deciding where to eat lunch on the way home (Sunday is not a day of cooking at our house).

Ellie stayed in the car since I was just popping in and popping out. The facility's dining room is just off the main lobby area and it was full. Sunday dinner was in full swing. I knew Tammi was busy but I told the receptionist in the lobby that I needed to see Tammi and she went to get her. When she came out she was dressed in gleaming white like the angel she is. I gave her our money and was surprised to hear her ask, "Would you and Ellie like to eat with us?"

"Oh, no, we didn't come here to eat, we came here to give you the money," I said, adding, "but thank you very much for offering."

"Well, can I fix you two boxes to take with you?" she said, and I was quite surprised to hear myself saying, "That would be wonderful!"

She disappeared into the back and returned in a jiffy with the boxes, and we were on our way.

So as things turned out we didn't go to a restaurant after church yesterday. We took our boxes home and our little dog Señorita Juanita Rosita Conchita Abigail, Abby for short, was happy to see us earlier than usual. We dined royally on juicy chicken breast smothered in onion gravy with brown rice and green beans, and it was delicious.

And even though I'm sure some of my readers will not agree, God is good.

Fascinating, but useless

I want to make one thing perfectly clear. I am not talking about myself. No, friends, I'm talking about an article by Nicola Davis in...